“Do you ever regret that you didn’t keep up with the piano?”
Now this is an odd question for a number of reasons. I can’t recall the last time my mother asked me a question about myself that had any depth. Always self-absorbed, her world has narrowed even more in the last few years. Maybe she didn’t realize this one had depth. Because it came from my mother, it could have any number of Real Meanings:
Your father and I paid for piano lessons for over 10 years and went to countless recitals to hear you (and other little prodigies) play. Why are you wasting our investment?
I had hopes you’d become a famous pianist one day. My dreams are dashed.
I wish I’d kept up with the violin and I miss music. I hope you don’t feel that way.
Why don’t you own a house yet, for heaven’s sake? You keep living in these second-floor apartments too small for pianos. When are you going to grow up?
Or, simply, Do you regret not playing?
My mother studied violin from a very young age. Her father was an accomplished violinist and also played viola and piano. And ukulele. He taught me the ukulele when I was young. He made his first "violin" out of a cigar box when he was a little boy. He and my grandmother met when they were both playing with a little dance band in southern Idaho – she on piano, he on “fiddle.” He wouldn’t teach my mother violin so she took lessons from someone else. She played in the orchestra at school. She loved classical music, especially Chopin piano concertos.
I didn’t find out Mom played violin until I was about 10 or 11. She was in her mid-40’s by then. I was shocked to find out that her violin had actually been IN OUR HOUSE for all those years, tucked in the back of a closet. It was a little like finding loaded gun under the bed. A violin?! In that closet?! So out it came. Inside the case, it was zippered inside deep blue velvet. Mother took it out and tuned it, tightened up her bow and rosined it. I sat at the piano and asked her to play something with me. We settled on “Go Tell Aunt Rodie” since it was one of the few songs we both knew. She played like someone who hadn’t played in about 25 years, but the tune came out clear and sweet. I started crying.
“Why are you crying? Am I that bad?” she asked with a laugh.
I didn’t know. I just couldn’t stop.
I've had dozens of alternative explanations as I remembered this, over the years. I think it comes down to this: It was the first time I realized my mother had a life before marriage and children. She was happy in that life. Then she left it behind.